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Indian-origin Tharman Shanmugaratnam becomes president of Singapore

Singapore: One of the most qualified residents of the resource-limited city-state that has gone through numerous stages of growth for more than 50 years is Tharman.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam, a renowned economist and Singapore’s ninth president, is the third person of Indian ancestry to hold the position for the next six years.

Tharman, who was born to Tamil ancestors from the Singapore Indian community, which accounts for about 9% of the more than 2.7 million Singaporean voters, is one of the most qualified residents of the resource-scarce city-state that has gone through several stages of growth over the course of more than 50 years.

Just days before the September 1 presidential elections, the 66-year-old economist, sportsman, and poet said, “I have been deeply privileged to serve you in many ways over the decades, working on the ground as well as shaping national policies for a fairer and more inclusive society, and flying the Singapore flag high abroad.”

In the first contested presidential election since 2011, Tharman won with over 70% of the vote, defeating Ng Kok Song, a former chief investment officer with the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC), and Tan Kin Lian, a former chief of the state-owned union-based insurance group NTUC Income.

The six-year tenure of current President Halimah Yacob expires on September 13. The elected president is in office for six years.

Tharman, a multi-generational Singaporean with Tamil ancestry dating back to the 19th century, was born there on February 25, 1957. Tharman is one of three children born to Emeritus Professor K. Shanmugaratnam, a pathologist renowned as the “father of pathology in Singapore” who established the Singapore Cancer Registry and served as the head of numerous international organizations dedicated to cancer research and pathology. Professor Shanmugaratnam is also the father of Tharman.

Jane Yumiko Ittogi, a Singaporean lawyer with mixed Chinese and Japanese ancestry who works actively in social enterprise and the non-profit arts sector in Singapore, is the spouse of Tharman. The couple has three sons and one daughter.

Before earning a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the London School of Economics (LSE), Tharman attended the Anglo-Chinese School. In 2011, the LSE bestowed upon him an Honorary Fellowship. Later, he continued his education at Wolfson College, the University of Cambridge, where he earned a Master of Philosophy in Economics.

After that, he enrolled in Harvard University’s Harvard Kennedy School, where he earned a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and the Lucius N. Littauer Fellows Award, which is presented to MPA students who exhibit academic excellence and leadership.

Tharman, an economist by training, has spent his whole career working for the government, primarily in positions involving social and economic policies. A number of high-level international councils and committees have been led by him as well.

Between 2011 and 2019, Tharman was Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister. From 2019 until 2023, he was a Senior Minister in the Cabinet. As the presidency is a non-partisan job, Tharman stated in June 2023 that he will run for president in the 2023 election. He resigned from all of his roles in the government and as a member of Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) in July 2023.

Tharman, a student activist in the 1970s while studying in the UK, had socialist initial convictions, but as he progressed in his career, his views on economics changed.

In a case concerning the publication of Singapore’s 1992 second-quarter flash GDP growth predictions in a neighborhood newspaper, Tharman was charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) while holding the position of director of the MAS’s Economics Department. He disputed the charge and was given an SGD 1,500 fine.

Leaving all of it behind, he entered the public sector and rose through the ranks to become a minister before leaving.

After making his political debut in 2001 by joining the dominant People’s Action Party (PAP), he was nominated to the Cabinet as Minister for Education in 2003 and held this position until 2008.

In addition, the president-elect served as Minister of Finance from 2007 to 2015, Minister of Labor from 2011 to 2012, and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies from 2015 to 2023.

In addition, he held the positions of Deputy Chairman of the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) from 2019 to 2023 and Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s de facto central bank, from 2011 to 2023.

Between 2001 and 2023, Tharman served as the PAP’s representative for the Taman Jurong district of Jurong GRC. During the ensuing general elections in 2006, 2011, 2015, and 2020, he was re-elected to Parliament four times.

A number of high-level international councils and committees have been led by him as well. A global council of business and financial executives from the public and commercial sectors as well as academics, Tharman formerly served as chair of the Board of Trustees of the Group of Thirty.

In addition, Tharman serves on the boards of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism for the UN Secretary-General, which will make recommendations on effective multilateralism for the UN Summit of the Future in 2024.

He served as the first ever Asian chair of the International Monetary and Financial group (IMFC), the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) policy advisory group, from 2011 to 2014. He co-chaired the Human Development Report (HDR) Advisory Board for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from 2019 to 2022.

Tharman, who was a keen athlete in his youth, has emphasized how sports provide valuable life skills. Children learn the importance of teams through sports, he said while discussing athletics as a form of education. They discover the discipline of repetition and how mastery can only be attained through practice. Additionally, the capacity to stumble or fail in competition and then get back up… with humility. Since 2002, he has started practicing Chinese calligraphy.

The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), which aims to improve educational performance and ambitions in the Indian community in Singapore, is one of the non-governmental organizations Tharman has worked for and headed.

In addition, he served as chair of the National Jobs Council and the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, both of which were created to help Singaporeans regain their skills and employment after the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also received numerous honors and prizes, including those from foreign venues.

While Chengara Veetil Devan Nair, also known as Devan Nair, a Singaporean politician of Malayali ancestry, served as the country’s third president from 1981 until his resignation in 1985, Sellapan Ramanathan, also known as S R Nathan, has been in office since 2009.